Monthly Archives: November 2016

Susmita Bhattacharya – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Susmita Bhattacharya to the blog. Susmita is the author The Normal State of Mind which was published by Parthian Books on 1 March 2015.

Susmita kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Normal State of Mind.  

The Normal State of Mind is my first novel. It is set in India and follows the lives of two women, two friends. Dipali loses her husband in a bomb blast and is resigned to living her life as a widow, caring for her elderly mother. Moushumi is a lesbian, struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. The novel explores Indian society seen from the perspectives of these two young women, their journey in to finding themselves, finding strength to accept who they are and how they’d like to live their lives. The blurb tells it more eloquently than I do:

It’s the end of a millennium. India has made tremendous progress in science and technology, but in these times of economic boom can a friendship between two women give them the power to defy society, and law, to reach for their dreams?

Dipali, a young bride, is determined to make her marriage a success story. But her plans are cut short when her husband is killed by a bomb blast in Mumbai and she struggles to find her place in life. In Calcutta, as Moushumi’s parents discuss potential husbands, the school teacher prefers to escape to her high-flying lover. But how long can she keep her forbidden affair secret beyond the safe walls of glamorous art crowd parties? In the midst of communal riots, India too has to make her own decisions about which traditions she must keep, and which she ought to let go. At the end of it all, who can decide what is the normal state of mind?

2. What inspired the book?

This book started off as a dissertation for my Masters in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. I wanted to set the story in India, as I had recently moved to the UK and was not yet confident about setting stories in this place. I also wanted to set the story in the early 1990s, a turbulent time for India, with a lot of communal violence and terrorist attacks happening around then. I had experienced it first had, and wanted to use this experience in my book. But I also wanted to explore something I had not come across in India. Though I had gay friends, I had never come across a lesbian in Mumbai, my hometown. I was fascinated that this was in spite of spending 26 years of my life in Mumbai. Did they not exist? Or did they not live openly as some of their male counterparts did? I decided to research this aspect of the Indian society and write about it.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?   

I am not a plan, plan writer at all. I write and see where the words take me. But of course, with a novel, I did have to plan my plot, the journey my characters were to take through the course of the novel. But writing this novel was not a linear process. I have had several false starts with other novels before this one. They always started with Chapter One. That is scary to look at on a blank page: Chapter One. 

One of the best advices I got on my MA course, was that one does not have to start from Chapter One. I suddenly had the permission, the possibility to dive straight into the climax of the story and start from there. It was more of writing in bits and pieces, and then fitting them in like a jigsaw puzzle. The interesting thing is, that climax scene that I started writing with, did not make it to the final book. But it was a great way to begin!

The entire process took me about 10 years. From writing the dissertation (and I was pregnant at the time) to having two children, several house moves, job changes, moving cities, sending the manuscript to agents, and then more agents, being rejected, being diagnosed with cancer and then the treatment (phew!) I finally got there! In March 2015, Parthian published The Normal State of Mind.

4. As well as writing a full length novel you also write short stories. What is it about short stories that appeals to you? How does your writing differ when writing a full length novel?

I love the short story form. They are short, so I don’t have to spend much time reading them. But even then, they are powerful to linger with me, making me think about them. There are so many ways to write short stories, I love being experimental, and reading short stories that are diverse and out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I can sit down and read a full-length science fiction book, or fantasy. But I will definitely read one in the short story form. 

When writing short stories, I first have a germ of an idea. I play with this in my head, and work it out, usually doing mundane household chores helps me with this, and only then sit down and write it. Sometimes, the end comes to me first. Then I work backwards to find a suitable way to begin the story. I listen to the radio a lot, and Radio 4 programmes like The Listening Project, From Our Own Correspondent, Saturday Live’s Thank You are all great for story prompts and ideas. Since my cancer diagnosis in 2014, I’ve found it difficult to write short stories. For a while there was a blank wall where there was once creative thinking. I have a story, that I worked out to completion in my head during chemotherapy, but I still haven’t finished writing it on paper. I have made a start, two years on, and hopefully I will finish writing it because I love that story. I have written other stories recently, but I find the process has changed. It takes much longer to write stories physically, and I find writing non-fiction has become a recent trend in my writing process.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?  

I have two young girls, aged 10 and 5, so am busy with them. When not rushing about doing school runs and trying to bring them up as feminist girls who don’t do pink (not sure if I am succeeding there), I also lecture at Winchester University. I don’t have much time to relax, but when I do, I sneak in time for myself. I am actually better at doing that now, since recovering; I am kinder to myself and value the ‘me time’ without any guilt.

I listen to the radio a lot and love the Desert Island Disc podcasts. I love to watch a good Hindi or Bengali film, I love to cook dishes I love (not every day task of cooking that none of my kids will like!). I read. I love to spend time in bookshops. I love my trips back to India, visiting my old haunts in Mumbai is truly relaxing. Sometimes, a nap in the afternoon no longer feels guilty, but really restful. But this is a luxury I don’t have very often.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

Oh, that’s a hard question. There are so many to choose from, but if I have to, I would choose Good Wives, sequel to Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott. It was one of the first books I’d read in my teens that had a great impact on me, and I’ve re-read it several times and have never tired of it. Am I allowed to read all 4 books as a set? You know, box sets are the trend now!

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?  

I’ve never been asked the story of my life through songs (by now you must have guessed I really, really love Desert Island Discs!) And the answer … well, one day if you have the time, I will tell it to you, complete with the songs I embarrass my girls by singing to them!

About the book:

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It’s the end of a millennium. India has made tremendous progress in science and technology, but in these times of economic boom can a friendship between two women give them the power to defy society, and law, to reach for their dreams?

Dipali, a young bride, is determined to make her marriage a success story. But her plans are cut short when her husband is killed by a bomb blast in Mumbai and she struggles to find her place in life. In Calcutta, as Moushumi’s parents discuss potential husbands, the school teacher prefers to escape to her high-flying lover. But how long can she keep her forbidden affair secret beyond the safe walls of glamorous art crowd parties? In the midst of communal riots, India too has to make her own decisions about which traditions she must keep, and which she ought to let go. At the end of it all, who can decide what is the normal state of mind?

 

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Christmas in July and Summer in February by Phillipa Ashley – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Phillipa Ashley to the blog. Phillipa is the author of Decent Exposure, Wish You Were Here, Just Say Yes, It Should Have Been Me, Fever Cure, Miranda’s Mount, It Happened One Night, The First Time We Met (as Pippa Croft), The Second Time I Saw You (as Pippa Croft), Third Time Lucky (as Pippa Croft) and Summer at the Cornish Café and her latest novel, Christmas at the Cornish Café was published by Avon on 13 October 2016.

Today Phillipa talks about Christmas in July.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY, SUMMER IN FEBRUARY

It’s pushing 300 C, I’m sitting at my patio table in the shade, a chilled drink to hand. The bees are buzzing round the flower tubs and I’m writing about – Christmas lights, sleet and turkey!

It seems we all love seasonal books at the moment, whether they’re escapist beach reads, cosy Christmas novels or spring romances. These warm, feel good books are a lot of fun to write, especially with a continuing series like the Cornish Café trilogy.

However, the tricky part is getting into the festive – or the holiday spirit – because you’re almost always writing in the ‘wrong’ season.

Believe it or not, even though I celebrated my 10th publishing ‘anniversary’ in October, Christmas at the Cornish Café is my first Christmas novel. Ironically, my debut–Decent Exposure – was actually turned into a US TV movie called 12 Men of Christmas but it was never written as a Christmas book. (You can see it on the Christmas 24 channel at the moment by the way.)

When I started Christmas at the Cornish Café, I decided cast aside the weirdness of writing a festive book in the summer and just throw myself full on into the seasonal spirit. The book starts in October and follows a couple, Demi and Cal, as they prepare their new café and holiday resort for a Cornish Christmas. They’ve both had a tough time and they’re finally getting their business – and their relationship – off the ground.

Even though there’s snow on the cover of the book, there’s no white stuff inside, because you rarely see any in coastal west Cornwall. What you do get are storms, gales and giant seas – all perfect for the dramatic events of the story.

To get into the Cornish Christmas spirit, I did a lot of research into seasonal traditions and food. My favourite scene revolves around a lively Harbour Lights festival where secrets are revealed for all the characters. While I was writing it, I visited cookery sites and really tried to conjure up the aromas and tastes of autumn and Christmas from fresh holly to mulled wine. In September, I even managed to lay my hands on a box of mince pies, strictly for research purposes, of course.

When I’m writing out of season, I visit nature websites to find out which flowers and plants will be in bloom. I also use a site called Time and Date to check when the sun rises and sets – because on a sizzling July day, it’s hard to imagine that in the winter, darkness falls at four o’clock.

I’m now finishing the final book in the series, Confetti at the Cornish Café.  Here in my writing room, the curtains have been drawn since five pm and snow is forecast later. In my fictional world, though, it’s spring, with long light evenings, Easter eggs and the bluebells nodding their heads in the copse. And I must admit that while Christmas is a magical time, on a dark cold night like this, I’m more than happy to pretend it’s spring…

About the book:

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“A delicious festive treat with as many twists and turns as a Cornish country lane’ Jules Wake

The festive, feel-good follow-up to Summer at the Cornish Cafe.

Christmas will be slightly less turbulent than summer, won’t it? Demi certainly hopes so.

She and Cal are keeping their fledgling relationship under wraps for now. But then Kit Bannen, a hunky, blond and somewhat mysterious writer arrives at Kilhallon Resort, and not everyone is charmed. Cal is sure that Kit is hiding something. But is he the only one guarding a secret?

Demi is busy baking festive treats for the newly opened Demelza’s cafe, but when Cal’s ex Isla arrives to shoot scenes for her new drama, Demi can’t help but worry that things aren’t quite over between them. Kit flirts with both women, fuelling Cal’s suspicions that Kit has hidden motives for staying on at Kilhallon. Then Cal has to go to London, leaving Demi and Kit to decorate the cafe for Christmas . . . all by themselves.

A storm is brewing in more ways than one. As surprises unfold and truths are uncovered, can Demi and Cal finally open up to each other about their feelings?

This second novel in the bestselling Cornish Cafe series is the perfect book to curl up with this Christmas.”

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Endings by Kristen Bailey – guest post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kristen Bailey to the blog. Kristen is the author of Souper Mum and her latest novel was published by Accent Press on 17 November 2016.

Here Kristen talks about endings.

Second Helpings is the sequel to Souper Mum and will be released in November.  It picks up the action exactly eighteen months after Jools Campbell squared up to a pompous TV chef and found herself flung into the world of the minor celebrity.  In Second Helpings, we find her back in the fame game as she becomes a judge on a family cooking show.  But how will she cope being back in the limelight, juggling being a working mum?  What happens when she finds out her old nemesis, Tommy McCoy is her fellow judge?  It is the sequel and final book in the adventures of Jools Campbell.

It really has been quite difficult to find a fitting ending to Jools’ adventures.  So much so that after I gave my final draft of Second Helpings to my wonderful editor, Alex, I got her feedback and the one thing she told me she didn’t like was the ending (the proofer said the same thing!).  She was right.  I had left my readers hanging a little (don’t worry, I didn’t leave her stuck in a burning car in some awful cliffhanger) but as this book was to conclude Jools’ story, there needed to be a fitting ending, a line drawn in the sand to mark that this part of her adventure was done.

The ending.  I’ll admit there’s a great sense of satisfaction one can get from reading a novel or watching a film with a great ending, a feeling of hope that all is good and sorted.  I can’t stand a film that doesn’t have an ending, that just stops suddenly and leaves you wondering what happened. This happens a lot in French cinema: a character is left crying in the middle of a field and the camera starts panning out.  Credits roll.  Nooooo!  We don’t know what happened!  Did she get her revenge?  I’ll usually scream in despair at endings like that, throwing things at the television.  You can’t leave it like that!  I’ll sometimes wait for a few sentences to come up on the screen to save me.  ‘Marie did avenge her murdered sister.   She then lived out her days on a boat in Sicily.’  But nothing.  Damn you!  Yes, the film was an allegory for something bigger but I invested time and emotion in those characters, I need to make sure they’re OK.  My husband will laugh at me at that point.  ‘You do realise Marie isn’t real, right?’

With all of this in mind, I sat down after my editorial meeting and wrote an epilogue for Second Helpings.  To give Jools an ending that was somewhere between French cinema and happily ever after.  Because at the same time, even though Jools is fictional, I’ve always made her story as true to life as possible, and in real life, everything isn’t always neatly tied up in a bow.  After boy meets girl, he dips her and goes in for the kiss.  They may then have their fairytale wedding and we believe their lives are filled with skipping, interminable bouts of joy and true love. The credits roll. But is this really what happens in the aftermath?  Usually said couple have to pay off a mortgage, they have kids, sleepless nights, the boiler breaks, she finds a new job, they get a cat…and so it goes on, each segment of time a new adventure, a new chapter. Not always happy, not always sad but these are the stories that I write: they’re based on the everyday; there are no glass slippers, there are no sunsets.

I will leave my readers to decide if I gave Jools a fitting end to her adventures.  Perhaps the ending will infuriate, perhaps you’ll still have questions but as I bid adieu to her in print, it’s nice to know that in some alternate universe, she’s still there – still burning cupcakes and swearing her way through parenting and real life.  I like to think her story doesn’t and never will end with me.

About the author:

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Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook.  Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire in a house overrun by Lego and odd socks.  Her debut novel, Souper Mum was released by Accent Press in June and its sequel, Second Helpings is released on 17th November.

She writes a blog about being a modern mother.  That and more can be found at: www.kristenbaileywrites.com

You can also find her on Twitter/Instagram: @baileyforce6

and Facebook: www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites

 

About the books:

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Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show.  Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.

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Exactly eighteen months after squaring up to a pompous TV chef, Jools Campbell finds herself back in the fame game as she becomes a judge on a family cooking show.  How will she cope being back in the limelight, juggling being a working mum?  What happens when she finds out her old nemesis, Tommy McCoy is her fellow judge?  The knives are sure to fly as ‘Souper Mum’ makes her triumphant return.

Buy Links –

Souper Mum

Second Helpings

 

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Runemarks by Joanne Harris – Extract

Today I’m pleased to share with you an extract from Runemarks, the latest novel by bestselling author Joanne Harris.

You can read yesterday’s extract on bookslifeandeverything.blogspot.co.uk.

 

That spark. That was the only true magic involved. Anyone

familiar with the runes – which were only letters, after all, taken

from an ancient language – could learn to write them. The trick,

Maddy knew, was to set them to work.

It had been difficult at first. Now, working the runes was easy

as striking a match. She spoke a little cantrip – Cuth on fyre . . .

The letters flared for a few seconds, and then dwindled to

a warning gleam. The goblins could see them – and so could

Maddy – but to Mrs Scattergood, who despised reading (because

she could not do it) and who thought magic was the

devil’s work, the runes would only ever look like scratches in

the dirt, and they could all continue to pretend that the goblins

were only rats.

Suddenly there came a scrabbling sound from the far, dark

corner of the cellar. Maddy turned and saw a movement in the

shadows and a shape, rather larger than a common rat, bob

away between two of the barrels.

 

Quickly she stood up, lifting her candle so that its fl ame lit

up the whitewashed wall. No sound could be heard; nothing

moved but the shadows that jerked and juddered.

Maddy stepped forward and shone the candle right into the

corner. Still nothing moved. But every creature leaves a trail

that only a few know how to see. There was something there;

Maddy could feel it. She could even smell it now: a sour-sweet,

wintry scent like roots and spices kept long underground.

A drunken party, she thought again. So drunken, perhaps, that

one of the revellers, stupefied beyond all thought of caution

by Mrs Scattergood’s excellent ale, had curled up in some dark

corner to sleep off the after-effects of a bellyful. And now it was

trapped, whatever it was. Trapped behind a drift of stacked ale

kegs, its burrow sealed, the cellar shut.

Maddy’s heart began to beat a little faster. In all these years

she had never had such a chance: to see one of the Faërie at

close quarters; to speak to it, and have it answer.

She tried to recall what little she knew of the Good Folk from

under Red Horse Hill. They were curious creatures, more playful

than bad; fond of strong drink and well-dressed meats. And

wasn’t there something else as well, something that lingered

tantalizingly on the edges of memory? A tale of One-Eye’s, perhaps?

Or maybe some more practical trick, some cantrip to help

her deal with the thing?

She left the candle on top of a barrel and came to peer into

the corner. ‘I know you’re there,’ she whispered softly.

The goblin – if it was a goblin and not just a rat – said

nothing.

‘Come out,’ said Maddy. ‘I won’t hurt you.’

Nothing moved; just layers of shadow disturbed by the

candle-flame. She gave a sigh, as if of disappointment, and

turned to face the other way.

In the shadows, something lurked; she could see it from the

corner of her eye.

She did not move, but stood, apparently lost in thought. In

the shadows, something began to crawl, very quietly, between

the barrels.

Still Maddy did not stir. Only her left hand moved, fingers

curling into the familiar shape that was Bjarkán, the rune of

revelation.

If it was a rat, Bjarkán would show it.

It was not a rat. A wisp – just a wisp – of Faërie gold gleamed

in the circle of her finger and thumb.

Maddy pounced. Her strike was well timed. At once the creature

began to struggle, and although Maddy couldn’t see it, she

could certainly feel it between her hands, kicking and twisting

and trying to bite her. Then, as she continued to hold it fast, the

creature finally went limp; the shadow dropped away from it,

and she saw it clearly.

 

Visit aliterarypotion.wordpress.com tomorrow for another extract from Runemarks.

About the author:

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Joanne Harris is the author of the Whitbread-shortlisted CHOCOLAT (made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp) and many other bestselling novels. Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as ‘mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion’. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, is currently studying Old Norse, and lives with her husband and daughter in Yorkshire, about 15 miles from the place she was born.

Find out more at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @Joannechocolat

About the book:

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“A gripping tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology from the SUNDAY TIMES bestselling author of CHOCOLAT and THE GOSPEL OF LOKI.

It’s been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion – the Order – has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand – a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don’t know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy’s only real friend, her ruinmark – or runemark, as he calls it – is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else…

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.

From the bestselling author of CHOCOLAT and THE GOSPEL OF LOKI comes a fantastical tale of magic, adventure and Norse mythology.”

RUNEMARKS by Joanne M Harris is being re-issued in hardback by Gollancz on 24th November (Amazon bit.ly/RunemarksJoanneMHarris

 

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Renita D’Silva – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Renita D’Silva to the blog. Renita is the author of Monsoon Memories, A Sister’s Promise, The Stolen Girl and The Forgotten Daughter and her latest novel, A Mother’s Secret was published by Bookouture on 5 April 2016

Renita kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about A Mother’s Secret.

What if you discovered that everything you knew about yourself was a lie? When pregnant Jaya loses her mother, then her baby son Arun in a tragic cot death, her world crashes down. Overcome by grief and guilt, she begins to search for answers – to the enigma of her lonely, distant mother, and her mysterious past in India.  Looking through her mother’s belongings, she finds two diaries and old photographs, carrying the smoky aroma of fire. A young boy smiles out at Jaya from every photograph – and in one, a family stand proudly in front of a sprawling mansion. Who is this child? And why did her mother treasure this memento of a regal family lost to the past?  As Jaya starts to read the diaries, their secrets lead her back to India, to the ruin of a once grand house on a hill. There, Kali, a mad old lady, will unlock the story of a devastating lie and a fire that tore a family apart.  Nothing though will prepare Jaya for the house’s final revelation, which will change everything Jaya knew about herself. 

2. What inspired the book?  

The idea for A Mother’s Secret came in the form of a mad old lady living in a dilapidated house, set isolated and forbidding atop a hill and carrying traces of past grandeur. Why was the woman there? What had happened to her and the house to make them that way, both ravaged and decrepit? Then I pictured a young woman thousands of miles away, who, while dealing with grief and personal loss finds her mother’s diaries and in doing so, is led to this madwoman haunting a tumbledown house in a country her mother shunned. It intrigued me – I wanted to work out the connection. And thus, A Mother’s Secret was born.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

With ‘Monsoon Memories’, my debut, I didn’t plan. It started off as a story about two sisters and then Reena, an inquisitive eleven year old, clamoured for attention and space to tell her story and it just sort of went on from there. 

I have written all my other books to deadline, so there is a certain amount of planning involved, although I don’t plan in too much detail and I don’t structure the novel until the end when I have a clear idea of where it is going. 

4. What have you discovered about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

The best thing about writing a novel is when the characters take over about half way through the book. Sounds mad, I know, but it is magical and true – the characters develop minds of their own and very strong opinions as to what should happen and what shouldn’t. I love it when the characters dictate where the book is going. This is also why I don’t plan in too much detail 🙂

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I read, cook, spend time with family. 

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

About the Book:

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“When pregnant Jaya loses her mother, then her baby son Arun in a tragic cot death, her world crashes down. Overcome by grief and guilt, she begins to look for answers – to the enigma of her lonely, distant mother, and her mysterious past in India.

Looking through her mother’s belongings, she finds two diaries and old photographs, carrying the smoky aroma of fire. A young boy smiles out at Jaya from every photograph – and in one, a family stand proudly in front of a sprawling mansion. Who is this child? And why did her mother treasure this memento of a regal family lost to the past?

As Jaya starts to read the diaries, their secrets lead her back to India, to the ruin of a once grand house on a hill. There, Kali, a mad old lady, will unlock the story of a devastating lie and a fire that tore a family apart.

Nothing though will prepare Jaya for the house’s final revelation, which will change everything Jaya knew about herself.”

(image and synopsis from Amazon)

 

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The River at Night by Erica Ferencik – review

Published by Bloomsbury Raven

Publication date – 12 January 2017

Source  – Review copy

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“‘A thought came to me that I couldn’t force away: What we are wearing is how we’ll be identified out in the wilderness.’

Win Allen doesn’t want an adventure. After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans. Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air. No phone coverage. No people. No help…

See more on the Bloomsbury website.

Win Allen is still recovering from the breakdown of her marriage and the death of her brother. The one highlight in her year is her annual holiday with her girlfriends. She longs for a week away on a beach, somewhere to forget her worries for a while. However, Pia, her adventurous friend, has other ideas. They are to go white water rafting in the wilds of Maine. Five days off the grid. Just Win, Pia, Rachel and Sandra and their guide. And no phones, no people and no sign of help if things go wrong…

This is a story where you start out knowing that something is going to go drastically wrong. I found myself willing Win to listen to her head, to the niggling voice telling her not to go, to follow her instincts. There is a thread of anxiety woven through this story, tugging constantly at the subconscious. The reader is on edge, waiting for disaster to strike, wondering what is round the next bend in the tumultuous river.

Much like the white waters, this books pulls you along at a frenetic pace, dragging you deeper into the story until you are completely submerged. As Win and her friends raced through the forest for survival I raced through their story. Though the opening of the story starts out slowly I was soon caught up the tale of survivial, willing the characters along, and I raced through the latter pages of the novel, the writing grabbing you and not letting go until the end.

The characters are all well drawn, flawed in their own ways and each possessing their own skills and strengths. Win is finding encroaching middle age hard. Her life is not at the stage she had envisaged when she was younger. Her marriage is in tatters, her beloved brother dead and she is stuck in a job she loathes. She has abandoned her true passion, art, and is conscious that her body doesn’t compare favourably, in her eyes, with the more athletic and lean Pia. Sandra is at a crossroads in her life, and hopes to use the trip to make decisions that could affect her and her children for ever. Rachel is still coming to terms with her sobriety and Pia is seeking adventure from her routine life, adventure that leads her to book white water rafting, to go bungee jumping and to prepare her body for any eventuality. As the story progresses each of the women change as the nightmare trip throws challenges at them. Win is faced with her weaknesses and challenges them head on. The others each find out aspects of themselves that were previously hidden, some welcome discoveries, others not so much.

This is not just a tale of survival. It is a tale of pushing yourself to do things you could never image achieving, of forgiving yourself and others of past wrongs and of reaching the stage in life when you can accept yourself for who you are, issues, flaws and strengths galore.

A well written, fast paced and thrilling read. I look forward to reading more from Erica Ferencik in the future.

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Elle Field – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Elle Field to the blog. Elle is the author of Kept, Lost, B-Side and Geli Voyante’s Hot or Not and her latest novel Found was independently published on 4 August 2016.

Today Elle answers a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Found
Arielle has come a long way since her “kept” woman days – in all aspects of her life – and we find out exactly how far she has come in Found. It’s a fun, fast-paced book, set mostly in New York City, and I’m so pleased that readers are loving the way the series ends!

2. What inspired the book?
I left Lost, the second book in the Arielle Lockley series, at a cliff-hanger moment – anxious readers were my inspiration for writing Found!

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?  
I used to just sit down and write, but nowadays I jot down a line about the next few chapters I’m about to write. That’s the extent of my planning! The time it takes to complete the first draft is always an unknown quantity – it depends on whether I’m doing consultancy work, or whether I’m working on my book full-time – but once I’m at the editing stage I can turn around the book pretty quickly.
4. Found is part of the Arielle Lockley series. What do you think are the benefits are to writing a series? Are there any downsides?
The main benefit is that you can create a character who, almost, becomes real to people because they get to experience the character develop over time. I’ve had a lot of people share with me that they have come to regard Arielle a friend who they’ll miss now that the series has ended, which is a lovely thing to hear. The downside is that if people come late into the series and they don’t go back to the beginning, they tend to miss out on details – that can make the later books in the series less enjoyable for them, which is a true shame.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I like stories – whether it’s grasped through pages, on screen, on stage, or whether it’s a story you pick up from visiting a place and soaking in its atmosphere and history. I’m also a bit of a foodie.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
One book is just cruel! Couldn’t I pick a Kindle and load it with all my favourite books, and then read that for the rest of my life?! No, OK… Hmmmmm. I would pick The Secret Garden because it’s a wonderful book – full of magic and fantastic Yorkshire imagery. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I’ve never been asked whether I’d turn my hand at other types of writing – outside of the book world, that is. The answer is that I would love to write a screenplay one day. I have an idea formed in my head already. Maybe one day I’ll sit down and write it into words!

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About the book:

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“”How did people even come up with the idea of these dizzying skyscrapers, let alone work out how to make them possible? Whoever built the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, their legacy will live on forever. What sort of a difference will I ever make?”

Who knew one flight could change everything? When Arielle Lockley stepped on the plane at Heathrow, she never realised how different her life would be when she touched down in New York City. Now she’s dealing with that aftermath, as well as trying to find common ground with Etta, her new and unexpected business partner.

But, trying to sort out business in London whilst her fiancé, Piers, recovers from surgery in New York, is starting to take its toll on their relationship. Can Arielle and Etta work together to continue Felicity’s legacy without destroying it, and will Arielle and Piers even make it down the aisle to say “I do”?”

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The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan – review

Published by Two Roads

Publication date – 26 January 2017

Source – review copy

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“MEET THE ‘KEEPER OF LOST THINGS’…
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you’ve finished reading.
WE’RE ALL JUST WAITING TO BE FOUND…”

Author Anthony Peardew has been haunted by a broken promise for forty years. Compelled to collect lost items in the hope of finding their owners his study in Padua, his home. But as he realises his life is drawing to a close, he also knows that he must pass on the task of reuniting the items with the people who lost them. The perfect person is Laura, his assistant and housekeeper, who finds herself the new owner of Padua and its contents. Eager to carry out Anthony’s wishes but overwhelmed with the task she is soon aided by Freddy, the gardener and Sunshine, a lonely girl with special gifts. Unbeknownst to her it may be that Anthony has left her the greatest gift anyone could have. And whilst she helps lost things find their lost people, she may just find herself in the process.

There is something slightly magical about this book. It casts its spell over the reader, drawing them into the story, so that you are soon caught up in the tale of Anthony and his lost things. This is a book that keeps calling to you to read if you have to unfortunately break off for any reason.

The story is populated with a wonderful array of characters, with not one out of place. Laura had arrived at Padua years earlier, looking for an escape from the tattered remains of an unhappy marriage. With Anthony and the house she finds peace and a surrogate family. As the story develops so does Laura, becoming less embittered, less selfish and more sure that she has some self worth and is deserving of happiness. Freddy, the gardener, awakens feelings in Laura that she though were long gone, but also provides friendship and laughter, helping her with her task. Then there is Sunshine, who as her name suggests, brings light and warmth to the lives of her new friend Laura and Freddy. Sunshine is a special girl, with unique gifts and her ability to say, simply, what other people find difficult to vocalise helps Laura in unexpected ways. Laura and Freddy help to counteract the bullies who have marred Sunshine’s life and give her purpose.

There is a parallel story running throughout, that of Edie and Bomber, spanning forty years. Edie’s story is one of unrequited yet sustaining love, of her deep friendship with Bomber. Throughout her tale there are glimpses to show how her story and Anthony’s story merge together, whether that is serendipitously or coincidentally is open to question.

The tale weaves between the two, showing how Anthony and Edie’s lives become inextricably linked, through coincidence or cosmic design. It requires some suspension of disbelief but is done in such a charming way that you could almost be left wishing real life was a little more like this book. It is a ghost story, a story of love, and of sadness and of the impact physical things can have on a person’s life.

The story shows the history behind some of Anthony’s lost things, some happy, many sad, others funny. All snapshots into other people’s lives and the significance, or not, of the physical objects gathered through life. They are the muse for Anthony’s popular short stories. Perhaps life does imitate art for the author herself is a collector of lost things and inspired her novel and the cover features some of the treasures she has unearthed over the years.

Don’t expect a mad dash of a story for this is a gently told tale. Sometimes that is just what is needed, gentle escapism. A lovely story, perfect to curl up with on a long winter evening. I look forward to reading more from Ruth Hogan in the future.

 

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Jane Isaac – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jane Isaac to the blog. Jane is the author of The Truth Will Out, Before It’s Too Late and An Unfamiliar Lie and her latest novel, Beneath the Ashes, was published by Legend Press on 1 November 2016

Jane kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Beneath the Ashes

Beneath the Ashes is a story about secrets. You think you know someone, but do you ever truly know them? 

Nancy wakes up in a bloodied state on the kitchen floor of the farmhouse where her boyfriend, Evan, is living. The glass is broken in the back door indicating a possible break in, and her boyfriend is missing. Meanwhile, the nearby barn has been burnt out in a fire. But as DI Jackman starts to unravel the case, he soon discovers that nothing is quite as it seems.

2. What inspired the book?  

Ooh, it’s difficult to answer this question without giving the plot twists away. Suffice to say, I like the idea of putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and watching how they react. The book opens and closes with a fire, and it was an interesting area to research because fires don’t necessarily cause the damage that we would normally expect. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

When I first started out I didn’t plan anything and wrote chapter by chapter. My first book, An Unfamiliar Murder, took almost eighteen months to complete. 

Beneath the Ashes was my fourth book and written to a deadline, so I needed to be more organised with my writing time. I wrote a four/five page outline in advance to give me a sense of direction, although inevitably some things did change along the way. I managed to complete the novel within a year.

4. Beneath the Ashes is the second book to feature DI Will Jackman. You also wrote An Unfamiliar Murder featuring DCI Helen Lavery who will return in later books. What do you think are the perks and downsides to writing a recurring character? Do they characters ever surprise you?

The progression of a series means that I don’t have to spend weeks, sometimes months, layering and building a character so that they become real on the page. This is a huge bonus and it’s lovely watching the characters develop with each book.

I haven’t really faced a disadvantage yet, but I do feel that we need to see some advancement in the character with each book to keep them fresh and interesting. And, yes, they do surprise me at times!

5. What did you discover about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

When I started my first novel I felt a little bit like Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote, typing away at my keyboard, immersed in my stories. What surprised me was the reality of the job of an author which is actually quite different. I need to find time for social media (which I love, but it can be a huge distraction!), arranging events, giving talks, and of course the research. I find I have to be quite disciplined to allow myself time to write these days. 

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

Since I still have a day job and a family to look after, spare time is quite rare. I enjoy trudging over the fields where I live in rural Northamptonshire, UK with my Labrador, Bollo. I also love indulging my other passion of travel and am always daydreaming about what country or city I can visit next. Needless to say, my bucket list is endless!

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

That’s a toughie. The Talented Mr Ripley is my all time favourite crime novel, but even I would get bored reading it over and over. If I were to go on a desert island I would probably take a dictionary. Flicking through the different words and meanings would eventually conjure up new stories in my head. 

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Q, Since you prefer to visit the locations of your novels, where would you like to set your next book?

A. I have a long list of possibilities, but we could start with the Maldives.

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About the book:

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“The floor felt hard beneath her face. Nancy opened her eyes. Blinked several times. A pain seared through her head. She could feel fluid. No. She was lying in fluid.

When a body is discovered in a burnt-out barn in the Warwickshire countryside, DI Will Jackman is called to investigate.

Nancy Faraday wakes up on the kitchen floor. The house has been broken into and her boyfriend is missing. As the case unravels, DI Jackman realises that nothing is quite as it appears and everyone, it seems, has a secret.

Can he discover the truth behind the body in the fire, and track down the killer before Nancy becomes the next victim?”

 

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Chris Rivers Nuttall – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Chris Rivers Nuttall to the blog. Chris is the illustrator of the Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventure books, written by Natalie Page, the latest being Tinsel Town which was published on 7 November 2016.

Chris kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us about Zak and Jen’s Astronomical Adventures: Tinsel Town

Tinsel Town is second story from Zak and Jen’s astronomical adventures. Natalie came to me with the idea of doing a christmas special back in June / July, the title and outline of the story was there so it seemed like a great idea to do. It’s the perfect link between ‘The Petal Planet’ (which is the 1st book) and what will end up becoming the 3rd book which me and Natalie are already talking about.

2. What is the process you take to produce illustrations? How long does it take from idea to final picture?

For these illustrations it usually starts with a very basic pencil sketch to get a rough idea of each image and where the charactors will fit within that image. I don’t like to do to much on the sketches as I perfect to go with the flow once I’m doing the actual paintings. The paintings are all then done using oils, its the only paints I work with, the drying time is really slow which isn’t good when working on a deadline but the paints allow a lot of flexibility.

I added some touches digitally on Tinsel Town, for sparkle effects etc, this was all done in the final stages.

3. How important do you think illustrations are to a children’s book? What do they add to the story?

Very important as I think it really sparks their imaginations, it shows things they might not have ever seen before, especially with anything that’s fantasy, but the images need a strong story and the story needs strong images, without either then the whole thing would suffer. If both the set of images and the words alone can stand up on their own as something interesting then I think it’s a winner, put them both together and it’s game on..
4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career as an illustrator? 

My advice would be draw / paint whatever you want and whatever feels natural,  you have to enjoy what your doing as well, otherwise the images would suffer. Also, try to be as original as possible and don’t be afraid to take a risk if you have an idea, it’s good to take yourself out of a comfort zone. Anything to do with arts is very competitive so you’ve got to stand out from the crowd and find you’re vibe.. as far as it being a career, very few people get to the point where they can call it their full time career but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it alongside whatever else in your life you have going on! That’s what I do. Also, try and find a good writer to partner up with! Again, that’s what I did!

5. What do you do when you aren’t illustrating? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’m a father of twin girls who recently turned 1 and I also play drums in a rock band called Heaven’s Basement which I’ve done full time for the whole of my adult life, so relax time doesn’t happen much, but I love being busy with my art, music and of course my family.

6. Is there a book you wish you had illustrated? 

Roald Dahl is king in my eyes, his stuff is so crazy, I love it, I’d be all over that !!
About the book:
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Best friends Zak and Jen love exploring space using their magic umbrellas. This time, they find a Christmas themed planet, but there is one thing missing, the inhabitants! Join the characters as they make some festive friends, and realise how important it is to appreciate every day. Tinsel Town is written for children over five years old, however younger children will also enjoy the rhythm of the story and its festive theme.

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